I’m drowning, floundering. A great swell of darkness arising from the depths to consume me whole. I desperately flail my arms and legs, limbs which feel leaden, useless. The darkness envelopes me, pure black. Pain explodes in my chest. There is red all around me, ribbons of life force rippling into the ebony surrounding me. My strength is ebbing away.
A face appears before me, blurry and ill defined. Coal smudges for eyes, a scarlet gash for a mouth, it grins at me, sadistic. I scream. Silently. The face comes closer, swimming into sharper focus. I recognise that face.
I wake up, bolt upright, in my bed. I am drenched in sweat; the duvet has been kicked to the floor. I’m breathing heavily, my skin cools, prickling with goose bumps. I fumble for the lamp on my bedside table, switching it on, a reassuring yellow glow. My antique clock reads 2.15 a.m.
This is the third night in a row. The same nightmare. The same death I am reliving over and over.
On the bedside table, a newspaper clipping. I pick it up, read it, even though I know it word for word. Put it down again.
Coffee in hand, comfy pyjamas on, I sit at the desk in my office staring out the window at the sparkling city skyline beyond. Behind me, on the wall, a corkboard to which is pinned a map. On that map, more pins and flags, post-it notes and annotations. David doesn’t know this but I’ve been conducting my own investigation. Not that I don’t trust him to do his job but because I am involved, even if it is via this weird psychic connection to Alex.
It has been a week since I met Alex. A week since I risked my life to hear his side of the story and I must admit, his version of events casts a lot of doubt on the police’s own investigation. Only three victims known to him, cast iron alibis for the rest and the notion that the killer is someone he knows from his past. Someone out for revenge.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t tell me who that person is, our meet was cut short when two uniformed officers came in for takeaway coffees. Alex made his excuses, left via the back way.
The nightmares returned after that. This one particularly, struck more fear in me than ever. In the nightmare, I recognise the face, that murderous visage as it seems to mock my distress. Upon waking though, nothing, like it has been wiped from my memory.
My door buzzer rings angrily in the still of the night, jumping me out of my reverie, I spill coffee into my lap. Cursing, I make my way to the hall and check the screen to see who it is at such an unsociable hour.
“David?” My brother is looking at the camera earnestly, he knows I’m home. I lift the receiver. “David, do you realise what time it is?”
“Sorry Abbie,” he says. “Can I come up?”
I hesitate. “I need my sleep, is it important?”
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t.”
Reluctantly, I press the entry button and take my front door off the latch.
I hear David step inside moments later, the snick of the door as it catches on the latch when he closes it. I’ve changed my pyjamas, am now making more coffee in the kitchen.
“Abbie?” he calls
David steps into the room. He’s soaking wet, hair dripping, clothes sopping, his boots and trousers are muddied. His hands grazed and dirty.
“Christ, what happened?” I exclaim at the sight of him.
“You should see the other guy,” he says with a wry grin.
I hand him a coffee, he takes it with a grateful smile.
“What happened?” I press him again.
“Brawl at a riverside bar,” he says. “Took three of us to bring this one guy down.”
“When was this?”
“About an hour ago.”
“An hour? Why aren’t you at the station?”
“Wrong place, wrong time,” he says with a shrug. He seems agitated, pacing the kitchen floor.
“Do you want me to call Jeannie?”
“No!” he snaps. “No,” more quietly. “She’ll just worry. I’ll nap on your couch if that’s ok?”
“Sure, but you’ll need to take a shower first and put those clothes in the wash.”
He nods, wanders out of the kitchen into the hall. I follow him, something isn’t right, I can feel it.
Instead of going to the bathroom, David stops outside my office door, places his hand on the handle. I frown.
“That’s my office,” I say. “Bathroom’s next door.”
“I know,” he opens the door, steps inside. Great.
I follow him in. “David, this is my private work space, you can’t be in here.”
“Are you a private investigator now?” David says, pointing at the map with all its pins and flags, like red rags to a bull, his face is flushed.
“No, it’s not what you think,” I say.
“You think we can’t do our jobs, is that it?”
“Of course not! I’m doing this for MY sanity and if I find anything that might be useful, I’ll report it to you.”
He’s flicking through the newspaper clippings, my notebook, his gestures are impatient, dismissive even. He’s forgotten the coffee, going cold on my desk.
“You always were a nosey bitch.”
He turns to me, his face reddening by the second, there is fury in his expression.
“You just can’t keep out of other peoples’ business, can you?”
“Get out of my flat!” I shout.
“I told you to stay out of this,” he hisses at me now. “You are ruining everything.”
“David, stop this, you’re scaring me.”
“Oh, are you scared?” he mocks. “I’ll give you something to be scared about.”
David launches himself as I turn to run out of the room, his hand grabs the back of my pyjama shirt, yanks me backwards. I crash into him, we topple to the floor. Winded, I try and get up but David’s too quick, too strong, too tightly wound, he flips me over onto my front, pulls my arms back, pain blossoms in my shoulders, I scream. Fear, real fear, is coursing through me.
“Shut up!” He backhands me across the back of my head, my forehead knocks against the floor, I feel warm, wet blood trickle down my face into my eyes. Then, he’s pulling me upright, his arm across my throat, constricting and I’m scratching at him, trying to pull his arm away but I can’t get my fingers between his arm and my throat and he’s strong, so strong.
Lights dance in front of my eyes, the edges of my sight go blurry, with one gasping breath, the world goes black.
To be concluded…
© Grace McGowan 2017